A team coming off a two-year bowl ban isn’t supposed to be stacked with talent, as top recruits are supposed to be scared away. However, that’s exactly what appears to be the case at USC as the Trojans may be the preseason No. 1 team when both major polls are released next month.
Remember when the NCAA sanctions were handed down in 2010 for the Reggie Bush infractions?
Southern Cal was banned from postseason play for two years starting in the ’10 season and was docked 30 total scholarships over three years starting this year. Yet Coach Lane Kiffin continues to be a master recruiter and was able to keep some of his star players—mainly QB Matt Barkley—from transferring when they could have played right away at any other school when the sanctions hit.
Last season, Southern Cal was playing as well as anyone at the end of the season. Following a 43-22 loss on Sept. 24 at Arizona State, things seemed to click in Troy. The Trojans’ only loss the rest of the season was an epic 54-48 triple-overtime setback to then-No. 6 Stanford.
In the final two weeks of the regular season, the Trojans went to Oregon and beat the No. 4 Ducks 38-35 to end their national title hopes. Then they embarrassed UCLA 50-0, the Trojans’ biggest win in that series since 1930 and all but assured that Bruins Coach Rick Neuheisel would be fired (he was).
But because of those NCAA penalties, USC didn’t play in the Pac-12 title game—UCLA did (arguably the worst team ever to play in a BCS conference championship game) despite finishing two games behind USC in the Pac-12 South. The Trojans weren’t eligible to be ranked in the Coaches’ Poll but ended up No. 6 in the AP.
Southern Cal is set to return nine starters on an offense that should be electric behind Barkley and probably the best receiving duo in the nation in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Barkley would have been a Top-10 NFL draft pick had he left school early (and Woods might have been the top receiver taken had he been eligible), but the QB wanted the chance to play in a bowl and potentially bring a national title to USC.
Barkley, who finished sixth in the Heisman voting a year ago, was 308-of-446 passing (69.1 percent) for 3,528 yards with 39 TDs and just seven interceptions. His TD passes mark broke Matt Leinart’s conference and school record and his completion percentage broke Rob Johnson’s USC record. He could well be the top overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Woods was dynamic, finishing second to Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon for the Biletnikoff Award. Woods caught 111 Barkley passes for 1,292 yards with 15 TDs and is also an excellent return man.
Yet Woods might not even have the most upside as a receiver on the team—Lee is a stud. He caught 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 scores and was called the best player on the field for USC this spring. Many are calling him the next Lynn Swann.
The offense also brings back starting running back Curtis McNeal (1,005 yards, six scores), but there is very little depth or experience behind him. And arguably the nation’s top offensive lineman last year, left tackle Matt Kalil, left early for the draft.
Eight starters are due back on defense, although the line lost two players, including leading sack man Nick Perry. But the unit improved as last season went on under legendary coordinator Monte Kiffin and has an anchor in the secondary in All-American safety T.J. McDonald. The Trojans seem to have an All-American every year at that position.
USC Trojans 2012 College Football Betting Futures Odds
On 5Dimes, USC is the +500 favorite to win the BCS Championship and +260 co-favorite with LSU to play in the game. To play in any BCS bowl game, USC is -430, while not to is +310. Southern Cal is the -125 favorite to win the Pac-12 title game, and massive -600 favorite to win the watered-down South Division.
You can also take a USC vs. the “field” prop on winning the Pac-12 title, with the Trojans at -125 and the field at -105. On the USC vs. field prop to win the South Division, USC is -750 and the field at +450. Southern Cal’s regular-season “over/under” wins total is set at 9.5, with the over a -310 favorite. There is no opening line yet for the Trojans’ Week 1 game vs. Hawaii.
Barkley is the +400 favorite to win the Heisman and -175 favorite to finish in the Top 3. Woods is +1150 to win the Heisman and Lee is +1700. Those two are +5000 and +7000, respectively, to finish in the Top 3 of the voting.
2012 USC Trojans Football Predictions
The schedule seems to set up pretty well for a USC national title run. The Trojans won’t have a problem in their opener at home vs. Hawaii or the following week vs. Syracuse (already a 21-point dog) at MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and Jets.
Southern Cal does then have to go to Stanford, but the Cardinal (already an 11-point dog) will take a huge step back this year without Andrew Luck, among other key players who have moved on.
Victories at home vs. California and then at Utah should follow, setting up a big clash at Washington against former USC coordinator Steve Sarkisian and the rising Huskies. With that said, the book still has the Trojans as early 16.5-point favorites.
The rest of the schedule: vs. Colorado, at Arizona, vs. Oregon, vs. Arizona State, at UCLA and vs. Notre Dame. Only the Ducks and Irish have a realistic chance but with both in L.A. the Trojans will be favored (-6 vs. Oregon right now and -14 vs. Irish).
I can’t see more than one regular-season loss barring a Barkley injury, so definitely take the over 9.5 wins. I wouldn’t recommend USC on the BCS Championship prop but would take it to play in the game and, thus, also the prop to play in any BCS bowl game.
Winning the South Division is a lock, but I could possibly see a loss in the Pac-12 title game to Oregon, if the Ducks can get that game at home. But that would likely take a head-to-head win over USC (not impossible) in the regular season. Still, take the Pac-12 title prop.
Woods and Lee are studs, but they won’t finish in the Top 3 in the Heisman voting simply because Barkley will get all the publicity and votes. He’s certain to finish in the Top 3, but I don’t like him to win it. The preseason favorite faces obscene expectations these days that are hard to live up to—just ask Luck.